I’ve been to Belfast many times. I love the people, the bars, the shops. I have a very close friend from university who lives just outside and I have spent long happy summers staying with her family. Which is why I felt more than a little naive when I took a Black Taxi Tour of The Troubles areas on my last visit. It was eye-opening, to say the least, to witness the obvious division between the Catholics and Protestants living just outside of the ‘neutral’ city centre I had so often frequented.
Jim was our guide and black taxi driver on a frosty December morning. He took us first into the Shankill Protestant (Loyalist) area and then onto the Falls Road Catholic (Republican) area via the 3 mile long ‘Peace Wall’ that divides the two. A part of me was curious to ask Jim which side he was from but he kept his tour very deliberately and professionally objective and I had to respect that.
I won’t pretend to know about or understand fully the situation in Northern Ireland. I can only share with you the information as I was told it and my photos of the political murals as they stand today.
A tribute to Stevie ‘Topgun’ McKeag.
Known as the Shankill Mona Lisa the gunman in this mural is aiming at the viewer no matter where they stand.
H Block was the nickname given to Her Majesty’s Prison Maze, a prison in Northern Ireland that was used to house paramilitary prisoners during the Troubles from mid-1971 to mid-2000.
Tribute to Martin Luther, seminal figure in the Protestant Reformation.
A mural of Cúchulainn, of whom it is said, at the age of seventeen defended Ulster single-handedly against the armies of queen Medb of Connacht in the epic Cattle Raid of Cooley.
As the mural states there are many legends telling the origins of the Red Hand of Ulster. This one represents the legend that during a time when their was no rightful heir to the Kingdom of Ulster a boat race was held and that ”whosoever’s hand is the first to touch the shore of Ulster, so shall he be made the king”. One potential king so desired the kingship that, upon seeing that he was losing the race, he cut off his hand and threw it to the shore — thus winning the crown.
The Falls Road
Tribute to Bobby Sands an Irish volunteer of the IRA and member of the British Parliament who died on hunger strike while imprisoned in HM Prison Maze.
Talented artists regularly update the political murals on what is known as The Falls Road solidarity wall.
The Falls Road artists show their support for the situation in Palestine.
The Peace Wall
A ‘Peace Wall’ measuring 5 km’s long and up to 25 feet high divides the Loyalist Shankill area from the Republican Falls Road. Seen here from the Shankill side visitors have left their messages for peace on the wall.
Bill Clinton leaves his message for peace on the wall.
There are approximately 88 peace walls or peace lines still standing in interface zones in Northern Line.
A secure gate prevents direct movement between the two areas after 10pm each night. The residents are said to feel safer with this in place.
A house which backs onto the Peace Wall in the Falls Road area has built a cage around their garden in case objects are thrown over.
Thanks to Jim at Belfast Taxi Tour for this insightful tour of the area. I feel more informed about a subject and area I had only read headlines about previously. I hope this will make me think with more understanding and act with sensitivity when I no doubt return to this city I have come to love.
Belfast Political Tours start at £30 for two people. Each additional passenger costs £10. The average duration of each tour is around 1 hour 30 minutes, but can be tailored to your needs. For more information or to book please visit their website.